Jantzen "Jedi" Ray is nothing if not resilient. His Internet-only radio station, Deep Ellum on Air, has gone through several changes of scenery in its five years of existence, including a run that forced his girlfriend to hide in a closet. (We'll explain that in a minute.) But he's always found a way to land on his feet. Now, only a couple months since losing its most recent digs on Commerce St., Ray has found the station a new home — and he's bringing along some free barbecue sauce, salsa and live music.
The latest plan? Deep Ellum on Air has partnered with One Eyed Joe Media, an offshoot of One Eyed Joe Brands, which sells barbecue sauce and salsa. The plan includes a flagship morning show with a twist: It will be performed in front of a live audience and lunch will be served. The new location is at 3409 Main St., right next door to All Vapes. And if everything goes to plan, it won't stop with Deep Ellum on Air; there will be other stations like it in music neighborhoods across the country.
Deep Ellum on Air started out of Jantzen’s residential Deep Ellum loft five years ago. For the first three years, he devoted his home to the station, turning a closet into a bedroom. He remembers his girlfriend didn’t want to interrupt and would stay in the closet while they recorded. After that, the station was set up at a house in Highland Park for a little while before moving to the building that it shared with Bucks Burnett's 8-track Museum, right next door to Deep Ellum Trading Co.
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But now that building is for sale. “They’re not evicting us,” says Jantzen, who found out he would have to move the station back in April. “They are politely evicting us.” He goes on to explain that the owners were more or less donating the building, but now realize it's prime real estate. Ray never thought this was the end for Deep Ellum on Air, but he admits the stress of relocating was considerable. “I knew something would happen,” he says. “I knew we would find a place. We’ve got too many cool things going on.”
Looking back, Jantzen doesn’t exaggerate the role Deep Ellum on Air played in the area’s resurgence, but he believes it played a certain part. “The local music was kind of scattered,” he says. “There wasn’t a central place where you could hear the local music.” He points out that his catalog of local music started with 30 or 40 local songs and now they have over 1,000. “It’s good stuff!” he enthuses. “Really good local music.”
Ray admits that when he started, people seemed to think of online radio as “some guy in his mom’s basement.” “It had a really cheesy, amateur stigma to it,” he says. He wanted to change the whole look of online radio. He also wanted to provide a place where local music could be heard. “We’re the only online radio station that actually uses high speed fiber optic Internet,” he says. “So when we push our shows out, we push them out hardcore.”
For someone who's been forced to move so frequently — he's been priced out of his original loft as well — Ray doesn't come off as resentful. “That’s going to be the nature of the beast,” he says. “We can’t pick and choose.” He figures it doesn't make sense to wish for a resurgence in Deep Ellum and then be upset when prices go up. After all, there are still plenty of empty buildings in the area. “This place could still be a good mix of business and residential,” he suggests. It's a marked improvement from the days when he recalls walking down Main St. and thinking it seemed like a ghost town.
John Ritchie, the CEO of One Eyed Joe Brands and One Eyed Joe Media, agrees. He remembers Deep Ellum being a dangerous place in the 1980s, but he believes Deep Ellum on Air is a good opportunity to drive even more people to the neighborhood. “We’d like to see people come down here and experience what’s going on,” says Ritchie. He believes this is a chance to put Deep Ellum on the map in broadcasting and project the scene into the mainstream.
Ritchie had been beta testing One Eyed Joe Radio, which streams playlists. His mom used to work in radio at KLIF and his dad worked in television production, so he has always been interested in media. Ritchie and Jantzen were talking about working together before the relocation. The two share a vision of taking Internet radio to mainstream. One Eyed Joe Media is now the mother company, with Deep Ellum On Air becoming its asset, the platform it uses.
The new space will allow them to host live events that will be broadcasted as part of a new flagship show called “The Rich and Rich Show,” which will be hosted by comedian Rich Estrada and actor Rich Hancock. In front of a live audience, the show will run from 11 to 1, Wednesday through Friday. The first hour will be in the recording studio and the second will be in a small performance space in front of the crowd. The first show is July 8, with no performer booked yet.
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The high speed fiber optic Internet Jantzen mentions was supposed to be the basis for another grand plan that Jantzen had laid out a couple months ago, at the same time he was looking for a new home for the station: live streaming concerts in Deep Ellum in conjunction with Ellum.net. The plan was to have every neighborhood venue on board streaming its concerts, but so far those plans have mostly failed to materialize. Jantzen hasn't lost heart — he says they're streaming Kixpo 2015, the world’s largest sneaker and streetwear expo, from the Bomb Factory on July 18 — but he admits that setting up the new studio is taking priority right now.
Not that that's stopping him from coming up with more ambitious ideas. “Every major city has a neighborhood like Deep Ellum,” he says. “We’re going to put On Air’s everywhere.” Jantzen says Ybor City in Tampa Bay is a perfect example of another place to setup shop. “Everything going on at Ybor City On Air would be local.” But it would still be within a network. “The beauty of it,” says Ritchie, “is that we can help drive content from the home studios and also get them out there to localize talent and bring on sponsorships.” A nationwide syndicate of On Air’s is incredibly ambitious, but this is exactly what they plan to do. Jantzen says he will be disappointed if the second On Air isn’t setup within a year.
That's all still to come, though. Right now the space is completely empty, save for two murals on the wall — one for One Eyed Joe Media, the other for Deep Ellum on Air. There's also a radio board that sits on the floor of what will be the recording studio. "This is the last board Ron Chapman used before he retired," Jantzen says, proudly. He's planning to move everything from the old location on Commerce on Sunday and start broadcasting Monday.